SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- A familiar face meets the new kid in town when the 2010 Calder Cup Finals -- the American Hockey League's 74th championship series -- get underway Thursday night.
The Hershey Bears (affiliate of the Washington Capitals) are in the Finals for the fourth time in five years after knocking off Bridgeport, Albany and Manchester in their first three playoff series, but the road to the Calder Cup has been far from a smooth one. The Bears, whose 60 regular-season wins (60-17-0-3, 123 points) set an all-time league mark, have gone 12-3 in the playoffs but have needed nine third-period comebacks and an AHL-record seven overtime wins to capture the Richard F. Canning Trophy and the Eastern Conference playoff title. Hershey's roster features 18 members of last year's Calder Cup championship team including the most dynamic offensive duo in the AHL in Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux -- who have combined for 203 goals and 290 assists for 493 points in Hershey's 197 regular-season and playoff games over the last two years.
After a four-game sweep of Rockford in the first round, the Texas Stars (affiliate of the Dallas Stars) ousted Chicago with a Game 7 overtime victory in the division finals before stunning Hamilton with road wins in Games 6 and 7 of the conference finals to claim the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as Western Conference champions. Texas, in its inaugural AHL campaign, was 46-27-3-4 (99 points) in the regular season and finished tied for second (with Hershey) in team defense allowing 2.48 goals per game. Jamie Benn has been the Stars' offensive catalyst since joining the team from Dallas at the start of the postseason, leading the AHL with 14 goals and 24 points in 18 playoff contests.
The best-of-seven 2010 Calder Cup Finals begin on Thursday and Saturday at Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for the Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, Texas. Stay connected to theahl.com for live scores, broadcast and webcast information and the latest news from the AHL's championship series.
Notes -- Hershey's four Finals appearances in five years coincide with the beginning of their affiliation with the Washington Capitals in the fall of 2005... The Bears have won seven consecutive playoff series, tied for the longest streak in AHL history... Hershey's 22 Finals appearances overall are a league record, as are their 10 championships... Hershey finished first in the AHL during the regular season in goals scored, power-play efficiency and penalty-killing efficiency, and was tied for second (with Texas) in goals against... The Stars were second in the regular season on the penalty kill but have been successful just 74.0 percent of the time in the playoffs... Texas is the fourth team in AHL history to win two Game 7's on the road in the same postseason... The Calder Cup Finals are being contested in Pennsylvania for the seventh year in a row, and in the state of Texas for the first time since 2003... Terry Koharski (third Finals), Frederic L'Ecuyer (second), Kyle Rehman (second) and David Banfield (first) have been named the referees for the series.
* The Hershey Bears are making their 22nd Calder Cup Finals appearance in 72 AHL seasons, extending their own league record. The Bears won their 10th Cup in 2009, breaking a tie with the original Cleveland Barons franchise for the most ever.
* The Texas Stars are wrapping up their inaugural season in the AHL with a trip to the Calder Cup Finals, becoming the 11th team in AHL history to reach the Finals in their first season and the first since Chicago and Bridgeport in 2002.
* Hershey's Mark French and Texas's Glen Gulutzan have their teams in the Finals in their first season as AHL head coaches. Gulutzan and French are the first head coaches to reach the Finals in their first AHL season since Chicago's John Anderson and Bridgeport's Steve Stirling in 2002.
* The Bears have won seven consecutive playoff series, tying the AHL record, and are bidding to become the AHL's first repeat champion since the Springfield Indians in 1989-90 and 1990-91.
* Hershey is the seventh consecutive East Division team, and the seventh straight from the state of Pennsylvania, to reach the Calder Cup Finals.
* Texas is the seventh West Division team in nine years to play for the Cup.
* Hershey set an AHL record with 60 wins in the regular season and finished with 123 points, the second-highest total ever. The Bears also set a record for home victories in a season (34), and enter the Finals with 37 wins in their last 38 home games.
* Hershey, which won the Calder Cup in 2006 and 2009 and was runner-up in 2007, is the first team to reach the Finals four times in a five-year span since Rochester made four consecutive appearances in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967.
* Eighteen players on Hershey's current roster were on the Bears' 2009 championship team -- Chris Bourque (Hershey 2006, 2009), Boyd Kane (Philadelphia 2005, Hershey 2006) and Bryan Helmer (Albany 1995, Hershey 2009) are all bidding for their third Calder Cup championship.
* Despite being a first-year team, the Texas Stars boast three players who have won the Calder Cup in Dan Jancevski (Hamilton 2007), Andrew Hutchinson (Milwaukee 2004) and Landon Wilson (Providence 1999)... Stars skaters Maxime Fortunus, Greg Rallo and Raymond Sawada all faced Hershey in the 2009 Calder Cup Finals while playing for Manitoba.
* Mark French, an assistant on Hershey's 2009 title team, is the third head coach to lead the Bears to the Calder Cup Finals in the last five years. Bruce Boudreau made back-to-back appearances in 2006 and 2007 before Bob Woods followed suit in 2009.
* Stars assistant coach Paul Jerrard played three seasons in Hershey and was a member of their Calder Cup championship team in 1997. He later spent two years as an assistant with the Bears (2003-05).
* Hershey led the AHL in offense during the regular season with 342 goals scored, while the Bears and Texas tied for second with 198 goals allowed.
* Hershey (87.4 percent) and Texas (86.4 percent) were the AHL's top two penalty-killing teams during the regular season.
* Hershey's Michal Neuvirth is looking to become the first goaltender to win the Calder Cup in back-to-back seasons since Pete Peeters with the Maine Mariners in 1978 and 1979.
* Hershey led the AHL in attendance during the regular season with an average of 9,520 fans per game, the league's fifth-highest total since official numbers were first recorded in 1962-63. In its first season, Texas ranked 10th with an average of 5,355 fans per game.